Commodities & Metals

What Nucor, Steel Dynamics Earnings Indicate About the Industry and Tariffs

Steelmakers Nucor Corp. (NYSE: NUE) and Steel Dynamics Inc. (NASDAQ: STLD) have now reported third-quarter results, and reports are due from Arcelor Mittal (NYSE: MT), AK Steel Holding Corp. (NYSE: AKS) and United States Steel Corp. (NYSE: X) over the next two weeks.

After markets closed Wednesday, Steel Dynamics reported third-quarter net sales of $3.2 billion and net income of $398 million, or diluted earnings per share (EPS) of $1.69. The results compare to year-ago EPS of $0.64 (net income of $153 million) and net sales of $2.4 billion. In his comments on the quarter, CEO Mark D. Millet attributed the strong performance to record steel shipments and average steel selling price improvement, among other items. Shares traded up 2% late Thursday morning, at $41.38 in a 52-week trading range of $35.48 to $52.10, and with a 12-month target price of $53.57.

Nucor reported results Thursday before markets opened. Revenue totaled $5.82 billion in the third quarter, up from $4.8 billion a year ago. Diluted EPS rose from $0.79 to $2.13, including a $0.26 per share non-cash impairment charge related to the company’s natural gas well assets. Sequentially, both revenue and EPS were lower in the third quarter. For the fourth quarter, Nucor expects another sequential drop, with year-over-year results remaining “noticeably higher.” Shares traded down about 0.5% Thursday morning, at $58.79 in a 52-week range of $53.71 to $70.48. The consensus price target is $76.93.

Rising prices for steel have made a big difference for both steelmakers this year. Steel Dynamics’ average external sales price in the third quarter was $988 a ton, up 27% compared to $778 a ton in the same period last year. For the year to date, the average has risen from $767 last year to $916.

Nucor said only that the average sales price per ton in the third quarter increased by 7% sequentially and 23% year over year. Total tons shipped to outside customers rose 6% year over year to 7.05 million tons.

According to a report from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development on excess steel production, the global steel market was oversupplied by more than 700 million metric tons last year, more than half of which (425 million metric tons) was accounted for by China. The Chinese have promised to cut production by 100 million to 150 million metric tons by 2020.

Although China does not export much steel to the United States, Chinese overproduction depresses global prices for steel. The three largest steel exporters to the United States are Canada, Mexico and the European Union, which together accounted for 47% of U.S. steel imports in 2017.

According to a September report from the Congressional Research Service (CRS), last year U.S. steel producers made more than twice as much steel as the amount imported into the country. The goal of the administration’s tariff on steel is to lift domestic steelmakers’ productive capacity from its current annual average of around 78% to 80%.

What does that mean for job growth in the U.S. steel industry? At the end of last year, U.S. steelmakers employed 139,900 workers, about 1.1% of the 12.4 million U.S. factory jobs. From the CRS report:

Employment in the steel industry has been declining for many years as new technology, particularly the increased use of electric furnaces to make steel, has reduced the demand for workers. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, labor productivity in steelmaking has nearly tripled since 1987 and has risen 15% over the past decade. Hence, even a significant increase in domestic steel production is likely to result in a relatively small number of additional jobs.

Reuters reported exclusively on Tuesday that U.S. Steel has negotiated a new contract with its 16,000 union workers that includes a total  14% wage increase over a four-year period. Neither the union nor the company has confirmed that number, which Reuters attributed to three sources familiar with the details of the negotiations.

Drawing a rather obvious conclusion, job growth in the steel industry will be modest at best, but current workers may be looking at an improvement in pay and benefits. How much of the improvement is a result of the administration’s tariffs and how much is attributable to a revitalization of the steel industry that was happening even before the tariffs were imposed is likely to depend on one’s political point of view.

Looking ahead to the other steelmakers that will be reporting results in the next couple of weeks: AK Steel is forecast to post third-quarter EPS of $0.23 and revenues of $1.81 billion, compared to a break-even quarter last year with revenue of $1.49 billion. The company’s 52-week trading range is $4.00 to $6.80, and the 12-month price target on the stock is $5.31. The company’s forward price-to-earnings (P/E) ratio is 5.15. AK Steel reports results October 25.

U.S. Steel reports results October 24 and is expected to post EPS of $1.74 on revenues of $3.72 billion. A year ago the company reported EPS of $0.92 and revenues of $3.25 billion. The stock’s 52-week range is $24.82 to $47.64, and the 12-month price target is $40.73. U.S. Steel’s forward P/E ratio is 4.74.

Arcelor Mittal reports quarterly results on November 1, and analysts are looking for EPS of $1.58 and revenues of $19.66 billion. Last year the company reported EPS of $1.08 and revenues of $17.64 billion. Shares have traded in a 52-week range of $27.17 to $37.50, and the consensus price target is $43.26. The forward P/E ratio is 5.80.

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